October 10, 2008

Scandal (1950 film)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Ryuzo Kikushima and Akira Kurosawa.

When a painter offers a ride to a popular singer on a mountain road, a photograph hits newsstands and the two are branded a secret item. Embarrassed and angered, they sue the publisher in this, a harsh criticism from Kurosawa of corrupt, slandering tabloid culture.

Toshiro Mifune and Yoshiko Yamaguchi light up the screen as the charismatic young couple, a pair who may actually have hooked up down the road had the scandal not exploded in their face. Yet the film's greatest strength is also its major weakness.

Coming to their defense is Takashi Shimura in a gripping performance as Hiruta, a slumped, stuttering lawyer who desperately wants to help innocent people, especially his tubercular daughter, but constantly fails because of his gambling and compulsive, self-destructive behavior. Shimura is fantastic in the role as a worm we can't help but love, but the reason I call it the film's major weakness is that his story, instead of being an additional layer to the main piece, just kind of stumbles in and shoves everything else aside, hijacking the central plot instead of supporting it. It's hard to complain because it truly is a fantastic character study, but it leaves the final product feeling like two separate films fighting for the spotlight.

That unevenness aside, it's still a darn good picture with solid performances, some wonderful flourishes on Kurosawa's part, and a clever analysis of tabloid journalism which, while condemning, feels like a fair judgement rather than an over-the-top assault. Well worth a look.

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